Attachment and the hedonic treadmill

Attachment and the hedonic treadmill

By Jimmy Petruzzi

jimmy petruzzi

Suffering as discontent is associated with the tendency to cling to and crave anything that is perceived as desirable and beneficial. Not only do we view the essence of the wanted object or experience as having constant and permanent value, but, like and addiction, as soon as we acquire or achieve it, it’s suddenly not as satisfactorily as imagined or we become aware of something else that is more appealing.


According to evolutionary psychology, this process was developed over time to ensure our survival by ensuring and motivating particular behavior. The entire dynamic mostly takes place outside of the awareness as we attempt to anchor and position ourselves to achieve what we have always been made to believe is important—self-protection, attracting and retaining a mate, protecting kinship, establishing status and affiliations, and avoiding diseases. These motivators are also known as the seven modular mind domains, which drive our primary and mostly subconscious mental processes. These drives may have ensured our survival and procreation a long time ago, but modern demands are very different, and it creates an unsatisfactory ambivalence.


As a result, we have a distorted perception of entitlement, which produces unrealistic expectations. It then becomes a vain pursuit to attach to things, ideas, and opinions to sustain our own mistaken view of the self. In reality, there is no such self-and-other distinction, and our pursuits are nothing but a hedonic treadmill, a term used to describe the supposed tendency of humans to achieve no permanent reward of happiness as gains, expectations and desires rise and fall in tandem, always leaving the individual feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. Long-term happiness, or preventing pain, is not significantly affected by attachments or avoidant behavior. Such approach and withdrawal behaviors can be seen as the root of suffering, which often lack meaning and logic, and are protective reflexes from an evolutionary perspective.


In simpler terms, in desperately clinging to our views and perceived value of the self, chasing after needs and avoiding unpleasant experiences, we are trapped in a cycle without meaning and insight.




We tend to view ourselves as separate from others and objects and states that we desire. We often conceptualize our identity based on what we think we have achieved and are entitled to, but it is only an illusion that does not reflect reality. We believe that a separate self exists that retains identity over time, is permanent and enduring, and has controlling powers. However, according to Buddhist teachings, the conception of the self is based on retrospective analyses that have no intrinsic existence. Instead, the self is really impermanent and insubstantial. The self is constructed in response to external factors and experiences, which continually change. So, the self can actually be seen as a “stream of oneself” instead of a finite entity.


What we experience, rather, is a continuous flow of perceptions that replace one another in rapid succession. Therefore, our notion of the self is continually shaped by successive perceptions and interpretations of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and other mental experiences. Our conscious effort is to rationalize and attach some meaning to these inner experiences, using objective interpretations that are far from factual and complete.


As such, our identity is the sum of our memories, which is, therefore, fluid, contextual, and sometimes confabulated. We seem to struggle to accept our interdependence and utilize group interaction to support the self-illusion to serve our own perceived interests. In other words, everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity, including the self.


Cognitive theory has also taught us that from feeling arises craving, which results in grasping and, ultimately, behavior. Therefore, feeling is the outcome of contact between senses and objects. The fact that we base our entire beings on an elusive sense of self can have far-reaching consequences if it is out of touch with reality.



By Jimmy Petruzzi

 jimmy petruzzi


An abreaction is defined as “the expression and consequent release of a previously repressed emotion, achieved through reliving the experience that caused it (typically through hypnosis or suggestion)”. As a type of catharsis, it is a method of becoming conscious of repressed traumatic events. The concept was introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1893.


In therapeutic settings, abreaction therapy is akin to exposure therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress. As can be imagined, reliving an extremely traumatic experience can be highly distressing as the person is retraumatized.


During hypnosis, an abreaction is a negative response that is caused by bringing unpleasant or uncomfortable memories into awareness. Such a response can involve crying or anger. Some hypnotists seek to limit these experiences while others utilize it as part of the therapy process. If the decision is to use it, the set-ting must be controlled and the abreaction acknowledged by address-ing the concerns of the client.


It is important to emphasize that hypnosis is a voluntary act and patients always remain in control of their actions and can end the hypnotic state at any time of their choosing. Abreaction therapy is mostly used with victims of child abuse and chronic PTSD, as it is helpful in recovering dissociated or repressed traumatic material, reconnecting missing affect with recalled material and for transforming traumatic memories (Putnam, 1992).


In these cases, abreactions are induced with the prior consent of the client and help to elicit information or stimulate memory. When an intense induced or spontaneous abreaction occurs, the hypnotherapist calmly confirms that the client is safe and guides them to a more com



fortable place. A spontaneous abreaction is very common in daily life as a sensation, a chord of music, a smell, takes us unexpectedly back to a memory of a specific moment.


To manage unwanted abreactions, the hypnotist sets up a resource anchor, which is a trigger for some powerfully positive emotion. S/he also helps the client to dissociate from the abreaction by moving them to another scene in their mind.


Transference and Countertransference

Transference is defined as an unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, or, in the Freudian sense, “the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a per-son’s childhood”. It is natural to have some form of entanglement when people interact, including a hypnotherapist and client. In therapeutic settings, the most common transference dynamic is when the client redirects feelings for a significant person to the therapist.

These can include attraction, anger, hatred, mistrust, dependence, or awe.

Where psychotherapists typically try to avoid transference developing in therapy, evidence of the projection of certain feelings by the client can be very helpful to explore underlying issues. The hypnotherapist should accept it and not resist it. When transference issues become evident, explore and clarify it by careful questioning. These aspects are dealt with during the pre-talk and education about hypnosis, before the hypnotherapy gets fully underway.


One of the dangers of transference developing in hypnotherapy is that the client may become dependent upon the therapy or therapist, which has the potential to derail the effectiveness of the hypnosis as the client will not be inclined to accept responsibility, which is an important part of hypnosis and its outcome.


In contrast, countertransference is defined as redirection of a therapist’s feelings toward a patient, or more generally, as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a patient. People tend to make instinctive assessments of someone else based on their experiences and beliefs—hypnotherapists are no different, although more aware of possible biases and assumptions. A hypnotist should avoid impressing any unwanted thoughts or feelings on to the client. Always remember how important it is to stay on script and have words and body language fully consistent with the intended message. Otherwise, there will be contradictions and ambiguous messages that will counter the effective-ness of the hypnosis.




This article is for educational purposes only




Putnam, F. W. (1992). Using hypnosis for therapeutic abreactions. Psychiatric Medicine, 10(1), 51-65.